Even after the cold shower, the half fuck fever did not abate.
Elevator doors opened then closed. To a certain extent, I remember coming in and out of such modern boxes, at different times, with different muzak in the air, but always that same, low orange glow light, the shrouded mirrors of the doors and walls, the sensations of moving sideways, forwards, sometimes up, rationally down. I’m in a white robe that doesn’t soak up the bathwater from my body. Droplets trickle down my arms and legs like crystalline ladybugs.
At some hazy stage, the doors open one last time and I step out into air conditioning. I am to cross a corridor in a shopping center to a shop, hardly lit by Chinese lanterns. A woman rode past me on a motorized animal. A small boy was sitting in front of her, straddling the beast, holding on to its pointed ears. I could not identify the creature they were on. It had wheels at the base of its paws.
When I stepped through the sliding glass doors of the shop (opened by pressing a rectangular button in the glass) I found it much colder inside. Freezing almost, and yet, in my wet robes, I did not shiver. Soapy water was pooling around my bare feet. I could smell frankincense. To my left on the wall hung a curious painting, nearly a meter across and two meters high; a red tree, massive in the foreground, its leafless branches thick, like arms, like horns, like blood rivers cutting across a gray and barren sky. To the right of the picture, in the background was an archway, cut into the end of a wall. Everything about it was a messy dirty white, as if bricks and stone were hastily painted or mindlessly built, most likely from bones. I did not know how I knew this. There was something of the old dead resonating from the image. Something about the loneliness of the scene that longed for a time that was full of life.
There were women in the shop, behind the counter facing the glass doors. They were in black dresses, talking, not directly at me, but also not to anyone else or to each other. One of them said, to a point between me and the other women, “we have prepared the couple room, so he can be next to you. Is that ok?” I did not hear a reply. I don’t know who they were talking to. Did some unseen figure emerge with me from the lift? The woman said,”come.”
I followed her deeper into the labyrinth of the shop, where even less light shone. The walls were black marble, or black fine wood. We turned several corners, the woman in black always before me, muttering, the walkways seemed to narrow, walls closing in, going deeper still, beyond the possibility of dimensions. We were technically walking too far outside the building, yet we were still moving inward, through the shop, passing closed doors where I imagined there were sounds and songs I couldn’t hear. For a few moments, I believed we were in a starship, large enough for a small civilization…
After an impossible amount of time, and yet, just a few seconds later, we finally reached an empty room. There were two massage beds covered with white silk, the type used in expensive coffins. “Take off your clothes,” the woman in black said. She started undressing. But I realized she was talking to the other empty massage table…
Nights later, when I had gotten used to the new face, I would start dreaming of women in white face masks. I would recall the lights in their eyes as they leaned over my scarred body, carefully placing the shrouds over my face, over my old wounds, pulling shrapnel from my lips, plastering my forehead and cheeks and the bridge of my nose with ice cold gel. Rhythmic blasts of cold air from thin steel pipes pierced my skin, as if inserting new identities. The hot and stinging fumes of the gel – apparently the fats of some extinct creature of the fantastic- seeped beneath my eyelids, giving me the type of sight only meant for blind oracles and hyper vigilant perverts.
Days later, whenever I close my eyes at designated cafes or against the sun peeking through the trees by the beach where I live, I would see the blue flora light on the ceiling of the treatment room. Its luminescence buzzing and omnipotent in my head, brightening and heating up my skin as my features were transformed into a man I would no longer recognize. Weeks later, spies and army officers would pass me by, confused, searching desperately for the man I no longer am. I watched them absentmindedly raid my apartment, unable to explain to their superiors the missing boxes of floor plans, autopsy reports of E.B.E’s, maps of now vanished cities and poetries of messengers not of this earth. They study CCTV footage and GPS tech that refuses to give up my location. They question somnambulistic neighbors and postmen, who remain curiously silent and befuddled.
The streets of my haunts had changed during the undetermined period of time spent at the treatment center. I suspect that, while on the massage bed, stark naked, damaged organs re-bloating itself, my DNA sequence had been altered. The narrative of my history and possible futures, codified, then modified by gurgling and beeping machines. I suspect that the entire shop itself – with me in it, lost in some medically induced coma – had relocated in the night to an obscure quarter of the shifting city, both to keep me safe and the old city safe from those who would hunt me…
I sometimes revisit the shopping center. The entire complex itself has changed, larger than the last time I roamed it. I know the shop is no longer there, but I go anyway, more out of nostalgia than for answers. I never quite understood why I had stepped out of that elevator, or what had prompted me to enter the treatment room for such an irrevocable change. Maybe my memory of choices made had been erased, for security reasons. On occasional nights, when the moon is blood red and the night sky is flashing with no rain, I would experience flashbacks. PTSD memories of bombed out buildings, riding shotgun in trucks on fire, with a load of military issue crates stacked in the back. Women in black camo and white face masks, with sniper rifles, bleeding out, protecting the contents of boxes, dying for a cause I know I am still a part of. Part of me knows the artefacts are now safe at some storage facility off world, awaiting my return. Part of me knows i’m tasked to hide in plain sight, for now, roaming vast, confusing retail complexes, waiting for re-insertion into a yet to be discovered orbital path.
#fiction #shortstory #sglit #irvingpaulpereira #xol